The World Today for November 02, 2017



A Wolf and a Sheep

East African leaders have been making headlines as of late – but not the good kind.

In Uganda, lawmakers are at odds over a bill that could place President Yoweri Museveni in power for life.

Meanwhile, neighboring Kenya is seriously stumbling with a democratic transition after a botched election gave way to a chaotic and disputed rerun.

But in Tanzania, which has never seen a military dictatorship or civil war since its independence in 1962, President John Magufuli’s all-out assault against corruption has been gaining some traction.

Magufuli, nicknamed “the bulldozer” for his work to build roads in his previous post as cabinet minister, was elected president in 2015 on a pledge to tackle the corruption that has plagued Tanzania and East Africa at large for decades, Al Jazeera reported.

Since taking office, he’s cracked down on officials’ lavish trips abroad, axed 10,000 civil servants deemed unqualified for their posts and a drain on government funds, increased taxes on businesses, and made moves to oust high-profile politicians accused of corruption.

In his latest surprise move, the president went up against the country’s miners, one of the resource-rich nation’s largest sources of foreign investment, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Miners once flocked to Tanzania for its low taxes and investment-friendly regulations. Now, Magufuli is demanding mining companies list their stakes in local stock exchanges and pay higher taxes and royalties to the government – or else face losing their contracts all together.

“I will not hesitate to close down all the mines if companies don’t pay what they owe us,” Magufuli told crowds in the nation’s mining region in July. “I have launched an economic war.”

The war’s first casualty: Toronto-based mining firm Barrick Gold, which the government has billed $190 billion in revised taxes, interests and fines, Quartz reports.

Observers see the move as a correction of a business environment that disenfranchised Tanzanians.

“Tanzanians have not benefited from these minerals, foreign companies have been paying little taxes and repatriating almost all the proceeds,” Rugemeleza Nshala, executive director of Dar es Salaam-based nonprofit Lawyers Environmental Action Team, told the Wall Street Journal.

“Now that the laws have been tightened, government will no longer be helpless.”

Critics say it’s ludicrous. The bill is roughly four times the country’s GDP, they note, also pointing out other instances in which government “corrections” are driving foreign business to look elsewhere.

Meanwhile, beware of the bully behind the crusader’s cape. While many applaud Magufuli’s anti-corruption drive, they note that since he took office two years ago, civil liberties have nose-dived.

Magufuli’s government has sought to stifle free speech in Tanzania during his tenure by shuttering the nation’s newspapers. The fourth was shut down for allegedly publishing “false information” in late October, reported.

Magufuli has detained opposition leaders – one was recently attacked – while also shutting down HIV/AIDS clinics and detaining human rights lawyers suspected of aiding homosexuals, the Guardian reported.

It is a lesson, says the Economist, warning of ruin for the country if it continues on this path: “When the presidency is strong and other institutions are weak, a single bad leader can set a country back many years.”



Power Play

As US President Donald Trump heads to Asia, Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Iran in a bid to further boost Moscow’s influence in the Middle East.

After meeting with the presidents of Iran and Azerbaijan in Tehran, Putin urged the international community to rally in support of the Iranian nuclear deal – throwing down the gauntlet in the wake of Trump’s moves toward thwarting the pact, Bloomberg reported.

The nuclear deal is “working effectively” and deserves support from all member states of the United Nations, the Russian leader said in a joint statement with his Iranian and Azeri counterparts.

Meanwhile, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Putin that Tehran and Moscow should cooperate to isolate the United States and stabilize the Middle East, Reuters reported.

Putin’s visit comes amid wrangling for influence between Moscow and Washington, as the end of the Islamic State opens political fissures in Syria and Iraq and proxies of Iran and Saudi Arabia square off in Yemen.


Still Friendly

Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a friendly overture to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un in the lead-up to US President Donald Trump’s visit to Asia next week, where Trump will urge Beijing to put more pressure on Kim to suspend his ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs.

Responding to Kim’s congratulations on his second term as general secretary of the Communist Party of China’s Central Committee, Xi offered a friendly thank you note that called for stable bilateral relations, Bloomberg reported.

He also expressed hopes that the two countries could make a “positive contribution” to “defending regional peace and stability and common prosperity.”

The overture doesn’t mean Xi will reject Trump’s proposal that Beijing take a harder line outright, but it does indicate the Chinese president will avoid the provocative tone the US leader has taken with Kim. So far, China has backed United Nations sanctions targeting North Korea’s coal, seafood and textiles, but resisted moves that could lead to the collapse of Kim’s regime.


An Unlikely Marriage

Germany’s Green Party has drawn a line in the sand over the country’s emissions policy, as Chancellor Angela Merkel struggles to form a so-called “Jamaica” coalition between her Christian Democrats, its sister party the Christian Social Union in Bavaria, the pro-business Free Democrats (FDP) and the Greens.

Such a coalition – named because of the parties’ black, yellow and green colors, the same as those on the Jamaican flag – has been accomplished in one regional parliament. But if it comes together now it would mark the first such government at the national level, Deutsche Welle reported.

Now in their third week of talks, the parties have wrangled over the country’s asylum policy, pensions and climate change, among other hot-button issues. But on Wednesday, the Greens took a firm stand on automotive emissions, an area where Merkel has drawn criticism for not taking a tougher line against the country’s automakers, Reuters reported.

Due to revelations over the summer that Volkswagen and other German automakers colluded to use software to cheat diesel emissions tests, the Greens are demanding more expensive hardware modifications that carmakers – and Merkel’s government – have sought to avoid.


Unconventional Rent

One Tokyo Airbnb host was ecstatic to learn that his favorite artist, Ali Sabet, had booked his apartment during the Tokyo Art Fair.

Seizing the opportunity, the host asked Sabet to leave a small mural on the apartment’s blank plaster wall and door as reminder of his time in Japan.

He went above and beyond the call of duty.

Sabet painted the whole apartment in a mural using his distinct style of portraiture, and adorned the door with metallic-gold Japanese calligraphy, the Independent reported.

He graffitied the dwelling using traditional Japanese brushes and thick, black and gold Sumi ink, traditionally used in Japanese calligraphy. Both are a staple of the artist’s aesthetic.

Sabet’s parting gift didn’t go unnoticed. His host comped his entire stay and extended a standing invitation to stay at his place whenever he’d like.

It’s a humble offer, considering that Sabet’s paintings normally sell for $3,000 a piece at auction.

Nevertheless, Sabet wrote in a blog post after his trip that it “was a dream” to employ his Japanese-inspired style of artwork on the walls of a Tokyo apartment.

“I was truly honored. So I left a little love behind!” he wrote.

Click here to see Sabet in action.

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